The Macrobiotic Movement

by Lizzy Westmore

macro Try this funky diet of old and new for a healthy start to the New Year—and beyond.

“Today’s flavor of the month, tomorrow’s passing fad” often wraps up adventurous Tokyoite’s ever-changing taste for new trends—no more so, perhaps, than on the dinner table. So what’s next?

Macrobiotic food—long a staple of the Hollywood elite—now draws health conscious people in increasing numbers who are keen to try the promised goodness of a grains-and-vegetables dominated dietary regime. But did you know that some Japanese actually claim it is rooted in their history when red meat was rarely eaten?

They do concede, however, that superstars such as Madonna have developed macrobiotic cuisine by using more flavor and color into a kind of Western variation that was “reimported” to Japan and today enjoyed mostly by young fashionable women rather than serious monks of yesteryear.

One of the biggest industry movers in Japan is CHAYA Macrobiotics Co Ltd., which runs six macrobiotic restaurants—called M Cafe de Chaya— four in Tokyo, two in Kanagawa and an online shopping website f o r home deliveries, with its latest outlet located at Ark Hills Annex in Roppongi to particularly attract the large foreign community in that area.

Guided by fashion magazines and blogs, women in their twenties and thirties who love to experiment with something new, healthy and trendy make up most of the customers, says CHAYA, who also consider it an “affordable luxury” and an important element in their quest for LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) — and a number of them then buy online for domestic experimentation and consumption.

What is macrobiotics exactly? Definitions and styles vary, but i t ’s more about a healthy food lifestyle. No eggs, red meat, refined sugar, dairy products or added chemicals. Brown rice is de rigueur as are vegetables such as beans. Not a medical diet, macrobiotic food rather reinforces the pleasure of eating, according to the industry, with tofu or vegetable burgers and lasagna, for example, that actually taste like meat.

At the launch of the European Business Council White Paper on the Japanese Business Environment on November 26, 2008 at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, however, a delegate complained that strict rules and taxes of up to 40% on imported organic products i n Japan mean the country has some of the highest prices and lowest consumption rates of such food in the world, with Europe enjoying about ten times as much and even South Korea way ahead.

Indeed, the cost of organic materials is the main hurdle to the industry becoming mainstream, along with there being no central market for organic vegetables in Japan, creating a logistics nightmare, complain industry sources who have to buy from small, individual—and expensive—farmers.

Naturally, in such a small market retailers depend more on word of mouth among friends and colleagues and through blogs than expensive advertising, and they spend instead on staff training to provide good service and to keep prices competitive.


Macrobiotic Food Stores in the Tokyo Area

Natural House
Kita Aoyama 3-6-18, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3498-2277
Health food chain store specializing in organic fruits, vegetables, and soy-based mock meats
Open 10:00-22:00

Chikyu-jin Club Natural Foods Market
1-5-29 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku (near Roppongi Hills and Food Magazine)
Tel: 03-5771-6145
Great selection of fruits, vegetables, vegan and non-vegan ice cream, personal care products, vitamin, packaged foods, gifts 
Delivery available. Open daily until 8pm  

Tengu Natural Foods
185-2 Komahongo, Hidaka-shi, Saitama (Koma Station, Seibu Line)
Tel: 0429-82-4811 (ask for catalogue)
Wide range of ethnic vegetarian food and domestic organic products with nationwide delivery

Macrobiotic Restaurants in the Tokyo Area

M Cafe de Chaya - Akasaka
Akasaka Biz Tower B1F, 5-3-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-5545-6860  

M Cafe de Chaya – Ark Hills Annex
Ark Hills Annex, 1-3-37 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3505-6225  

Chaya Macrobiotic Restaurant
Isetan Department Store, Main Building 7F,
3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3357-0014  

Crayon House 
Natural Food, 3-8-15 Kita Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3406-6409  

Brown Rice Café
Organic Cafe
Vegan Green Bldg. 1F, 5-1-17 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-5778-5416
Closed on summer and national winter holidays.  

Kurusu bldg B1F, 2-2-5 Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3498-8810
Kushi Garden Deli & Cafe
Palace Side Building 1F, 1-1-1, Hitotsubashi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Tel: 03-3215-9455  

Der Akkord 
Vegan Organic Bakery & Deli Vegan
5-45-5 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 
Tel: 03-6419-2928

Miraishoku Atrie Fu: Tsubu-Tsubu Cafe
1-17-9 Sekiguchi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 
Tel: 03-3269-0833  

*Opening hours may vary; please call to check before going.